finding out what's legal

I have a question regarding finding out whether or not someone is breaking a law or not by committing certain actions. If I ask a police officer, I’m not sure I’ll believe the answer is accurate. Can I ask the DA?

An experienced police officer would probably have a pretty good idea of what constitutes a criminal act and what doesn’t. However, I wouldn’t trust them on any other legal questions, such as what is legal or illegal under employment law, for example. If it’s that sort of question, there should be specialists around that you can consult with.

You mention D.A., so I’m guessing your question is of a criminal law nature?

This question is kind of difficult to answer in the abstract. If you are worried that someone is doing something that is putting you or someone else in immediate danger, then you should call the police.

If you have a more general question about the criminal law in your jurisdiction, then you could contact a reference librarian, who can show you how to look up the laws in your jurisdiction. A reference librarian can also point you towards legal treatises that explain the criminal law.

If you, or someone you care about, is considering a certain course of action, and you don’t know whether it is legal or not, you should talk to an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

It depends a lot if you’re talking criminal or civil law, and local or federal. Why don’t you just ask here and an army of Google-Fu black belts will probably help you find out in no time flat? Or, if its confidential you might try searching the US Criminal Code. In general, a lawyer specializing in whatever the particular circumstances might be would also be a likely source for correct information.

If only there were some type of profession where people studied the law and became experts in it, they would be great people to ask for such questions. Such a shame that we don’t have anything like that.

Ah yes, but when you’re looking for a no-cost iron clad jurisdictionally universal answer to a poorly thought through hypothetical, those people only offer “it depends” type answers.

Sooo unsatisfying.

Moved from General Questions to In My Humble Opinion.

General Questions Moderator

“breaking a law” is a very broad term, and may even not be what you mean. Are you talking about some form of act to deliberately hurt someone, or something like storing trash improperly?

Can you give us a little more detail? It may be that there is some other government agency that would be a better source of information than the cops.

I don’t know if it’s deliberate, but yes, somebody hurting someone else. I’d explain the entire situation, but I think the rest of the teeming millions would call me a troll and I wouldn’t get the answer I want.

Someone hurting someone else could be a felony, or could be a tort, or could be both (as O.J. Simpson found out), or could be neither if there’s a lawful excuse (e.g., self defence).

If you want to find out if something is illegal, generally your town, state and the Federal goverment make their laws and statutes publically available on the Internet, in the local library or at city hall somewhere.

With all due respect, that’s a bit like saying, “If you want to know what is sinful in Christianity, just read your Bible.” Law students and lawyers get trained in:
(1) How to search for relevant legislation, and
(2) How to interpret the legislation once they’ve found it.

Then there are all the textbooks they have to read, and all the decisions of supreme courts and of appeals courts (both federal and state) that may be relevant in deciding whether some specific conduct is “illegal”.

And even then, after they’ve done all the research, lawyers can honestly disagree on the boundaries of illegality. Even justices on the Supreme Court of the United States, who rarely agree 9-0 on issues brought before them.

Yes, however in the context of the OP’s question, if he just wants to know if a particular action is technically illegal according to substantive law, he can look up the relevant statute himself. If he needs actual legal advice he shold refer to a lawyer.

That’s not always easy for a layman to do. Sometimes, it’s not easy for a lawyer, either. For example, my state has a criminal code that covers some stuff, but other things are covered elsewhere…the motor vehicle code, health codes, etc. As an example, drug law is a pain in the ass, because you check the criminal code and it tells you it’s a crime to possess or sell a Schedule (insert number here) controlled substance…but then you have to go dig around in the health code to find out which substances are on Schedule (insert number here), or on a different schedule, and how many “dosage units” of what schedule falls under which sentencing guideline…and if the defendant was driving a vehicle when he got busted, then you also have to look up whether his license will be suspended (probably), the car impounded (possibly) or forfeited (also possible). You may also need to deal with whether he’s subject to being evicted from subsidized housing, or whether his presence in such housing could be cause for someone else to be evicted…and that gets into federal law/regulations as interpreted by local officials.

Well…that’s what you have to do. You either pay for a lawyer, ask a cop or go look up the relevant laws on the Internet or the library. If you have another option, I’d be happy to hear it.

With some forms of conduct that are questionable and could lead to criminal or civil liability, it is possible to do something akin to what the OP asked regarding “asking the DA” – you can apply for a “no-action letter” from an agency with regulatory/enforcement jurisdiction (usually this is on tax, securities, etc. issues) and – if it’s granted – you can later point to your reliance on the agency’s “we don’t think you’d be breaking the law is you took the proposed steps XYZ” as a pretty strong defense to later prosecution/liability.

Don’t know, though, if DAs per se are in the habit of issuing such letters.

Whereas you think it would be well received by the TM if you ask in the hypothetical, a question that needs significantly more specific details for anyone to even hazard a guess, and then spoon-feed a few more ambiguous details, one post at a time, in response to requests by the TM for more specific information? That looks a lot like exactly what you’re saying you don’t want to be accused of. If by hurting someone else you mean physically you had better call the police and quit screwing around on message boards. If you won’t provide more detail than this, the best answer that can be provided already has: call a lawyer.

If it troubles you so, for $30 or therabouts you can get a referral from your state bar association and a 1/2 hour consultation with an attorney. google “[your state] bar referral service.”